It is the call Scotland Yard Superintendent Duncan Kincaid never expected -- and one he certainly doesn't want. Victoria, his ex-wife, who walked out without an explanation more than a decade ago, asks him to look into the suicide of local poet, Lydia Brooke -- a case that's been officially closed for five years. The troubled young writer's death, Victoria claims, might well have been murder.
No one is more surprised than Kincaid himself when he agrees to investigate -- not even his partner and lover, Sergeant Gemma James. But it's a second death that raises the stakes and plunges Kincaid and James into a labyrinth of dark lies and lethal secrets that stretches all the way back through the twentieth century -- a death that most assuredly is murder, one that has altered Duncan Kincaid's world forever.
Crombie's English procedural series featuring Scotland Yard's Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James (Mourn Not Your Dead, 1996, etc.) takes a giant leap forward with this haunting mystery set among Cambridge literary types. Vic McClellan, Duncan's ex-wife and a member of the English faculty at Cambridge, is writing a biography of Lydia Brooke, a Cambridge poet whose death five years earlier was attributed to suicide. Convinced that Lydia didn't kill herself, Vic asks Duncan to look into the poet's death. Estranged from Vic since she left him 12 years ago, Duncan is at first unwilling to help. But Vic's literary evidence and a brief look at the local police records soon convince him and Gemma, who's his lover as well as his partner, that there's something fishy about Lydia's demise. Having reconciled with Vic and been charmed by her son, Kit, Duncan is devastated when she is murdered. Assisted by Gemma, he sets out on a personal crusade to find the killer. Their investigation leads to Lydia's circle of Cambridge friends in the 1960s: Nathan, now on the botany faculty; Darcy, a colleague of Vic's on the English faculty; Daphne, headmistress of a girls' school; and Adam, an Anglican priest. It's Gemma, through close reading of a long-lost poem by Lydia, who uncovers the crucial secret. As Crombie continues to explore Duncan and Gemma's complicated relationship, she adds a deeper resonance in the form of Duncan's feelings for Vic and Kit. This is the best book in an already accomplished series. Crombie excels at investing her mysteries with rich characterization and a sophisticated wash of illuminating feminism.